What Was She Thinking?
The one-of-a-kind quilt that Kate Adams purchased came without a name. When asked what she planned to call it, she replied, "Right now I'm calling it 'My Wonderful New Quilt!'"
Kathleen McCrady's reproduction of Kate Adams' quilt. Kathleen calls her version, Basket of Lilies (What Was She Thinking?)
The thick-stalked flowers twist and turn capriciously, towering above little baskets that appear far too small to hold their bulk. Larger blossoms float freely between the top-heavy baskets, anchored by Crossed Canoes that are themselves wedged in with a bold striped fabric. Browns, pinks, and a variety of greens cavort together in a stew of checks, stripes, and prints on the quilt’s surface, backed by a surprising purple stripe. Considered separately, the elements of this pieced and appliquéd quilt seem utterly at odds. Considered together, they combine to produce a delightful whole that charms the viewer with its whimsy and playfulness.
Kate Adams (see “Kindred Spirits”) saw the quilt at a vendor’s booth during International Quilt Festival in Long Beach, California, last year. She kept returning to the booth to look at it, fascinated by its fanciful quirkiness. Kate waited until the last possible minute to make up her mind, but as the show was closing, she decided that she simply had to buy it.
The vendor knew little of the quilt’s history, but placed its provenance in Pennsylvania and dated it to around 1875. One can’t help but wonder about the person who made it. Given the quilt’s age, the quiltmaker was most likely a woman. Certainly, she was a skilled draftsperson who was hardly timid about color and design choices. Undoubtedly, she had a child-like exuberance that spilled over into her creation. Sadly, all we can do is speculate about this anonymous artist.
When Kate showed her purchase to Kathleen McCrady (see “Template”), Kathleen, too, was charmed by the quilt and wondered about the person who made it. “What was she thinking?” Kathleen asked, looking at the way the blocks were put together. As an expert quiltmaker herself, and one who has drafted many a pattern, her curiosity was piqued. She decided that she simply had to reproduce it.
“Those old one-of-a-kind quilts have so many creative elements that catch my eye,” Kathleen says. “You wonder what made [the quilter] think to do what she did. Did she draft the pattern? How did she think to use five points in many of the lilies and align them to the right or left, creating a different direction for the stems? What made her think about laying some of her potted lilies on their sides instead of lining them up in straight rows? Then with those off-setting blocks that use larger pieces, she still used the eight-pointed star (but with only five points), again aligning them to the right or left. We don’t often see such bold geometric fabrics used in the outside triangles. Our ancestors were very talented, creative people, and they went ‘outside the box’ many times. It is inspiring to me.” Kathleen calls her version of the quilt Folk Art Lilies (What Was She Thinking?).
I wonder if the maker of the original quilt ever dreamed that her work might one day inspire other artists. I’d like to hope that she did. Somehow, that would lessen the sting of anonymity for the creative woman who left this happy curiosity for us to enjoy so many years later. And I think she’d be glad to know that her quilt has found a home with someone who will appreciate it for many years to come.
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Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
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Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
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Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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